She said two of the candidates never came through, and the one who was most committed decided instead to leave her husband, thus voiding her Mrs. status. I wouldn't have to put on a one-woman show, however. Because my pageant was being held jointly with the Mrs. Maryland pageant, I would participate with the Maryland contestants and the audience wouldn't realize I was the only D.C. entrant. But she warned me that if someone else came along, even at the last minute, she would have to let her compete.
Now it was my turn to panic. Whenever I told friends that I entered the Mrs. Washington, D.C. pageant, they burst out laughing, then thinking they might be hurting my feelings (they weren't), said, "Not that you're not attractive and everything. But, oh my God! You're in the Mrs. Washington, D.C. pageant? Hey, what if you win and go to the nationals? Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!"
I was going to the nationals.
I opened the Mrs. America Web site. The nationals lasted for two weeks at the end of the summer, culminating in the national broadcast. So certain had I been that I was not going to nationals that I had booked our family vacation in New England for exactly the same time. This was turning into the beauty-contest version of The Producers. As I scrolled through the photos of last year's contestants in their sashes and bathing suits meeting various dignitaries, I realized I had to find someone to take the title from me.
I called a gorgeous friend with a centerfold-ready figure and told her about the pageant. She sounded mildly curious until I mentioned the bathing suit.
"I would never parade around on stage in my bathing suit," she said. "Are you out of your mind?"
I asked my husband for advice on who else to recruit. "I think you have lost touch with how deeply bizarre it is to call your friends and ask them to compete against you in the Mrs. Washington, D.C. contest." He was right. It was time to go shopping.
I went off to Loehmann's with my 8-year-old daughter in tow. Within minutes she found a dark-red sequined gown that fit me and cost $70. Sold. I took about a dozen bathing suits to the dressing room. My daughter had the same reaction to all of them: "No, Mom. No!"
I spent the next few days by myself trying to purchase the rest of my pageant wear. After trying 32 bathing suits, I found a black one for $73 that not only sucked in my stomach but was topped with a pair of enormous rigid domes. My actual breasts floated inside like a pair of guppies in an aquarium. To fill things out I stuffed in the Whipped Silicone Push Up Pads ($13) and the Original Oxygen Lift Push Up Pads ($10). I did feel guilty about insulting my breasts this way. Both my mother and grandmother had breast cancer, and all I ask of my breasts at this point in life is that they don't kill me. The pads were busting my budget, and I had a better idea. I went home and retrieved a bag of shoulder pads I'd cut out of dresses. I put on my bathing suit, stuffed four pairs of shoulder pads into the domes, stepped into my high heels ($50), and paraded around the bedroom for my husband.
"Your legs look completely different," he said, stuttering a little. "They're almost long."
When I was pregnant I borrowed a pair of his sweat pants that I have since refused to return. I wear them constantly, usually topped with a stained T-shirt. Because of bunions, I haven't worn high heels in years. As I watched my husband watch me, face agog, I realized, although I was heading for the Mrs. crown, what a lousy Mrs. I've been.